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Heather Johnson – How You Can Prevent Suicide.

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Approximately 41,000 families are faced annually with one of the most difficult deaths to deal with: suicide. Heather Johnson was faced with such a tragedy with her cousin Jason R. Ellis, born spring of 1984. In late January of 2009, after an argument with his girlfriend, Jason was found hanging in a closet.

When Heather was 17 she met her 6 year old cousin Jason. Through the years they grew close, whether it was going outdoors or just staying at home talking. Of the thousands of things they’d talk about, one topic often in mind was society. He had tattoos and piercings; he liked to skateboard and Jasonwas even seen as “Goth” or “Emo.” But, like all of us, he was not what you see; he was what he said, what he believed in, and what he was loved for. 

He had lived an active lifestyle to say the least, from fishing to skate boarding, even climbing trees in his leisure as well as enjoying his skill for landscaping. He could spend hours in deep conversation about his Cherokee heritage, his religion, music, or just about anything. He created countless hours of laughter with his family and friends. He was your average cousin, brother, and son.

After knowing Jason so long to be so happy, you can imagine Heather’s surprise when her family member called her to Shock Trauma. Heather rushed as fast as she could to the hospital. When she arrived Jason had no brain activity. She was dumbfounded when the results ruled Jason’s death as suicide, especially with her knowledge about suicide given her volunteer work with suicide programs. She, along with her family, said her goodbyes. 

Looking back at this day and the confusion brought by the situation, Heather says, “For Jason to have taken his life, it was like all of the sudden your airway becomes clogged and all of your oxygen is cut off. It was just so sudden and definitely not something I expected. Jason was so full of life, and love, and positive energy! He was NOT the person you would have expected to take his own life. While Jason was strong and tough, I guess he hid his pain and weakness from me and everyone else in our family.” 

As winners do, Heather blossomed through the tragedy of losing her cousin and reignited her passion for working with suicide prevention. In her Heatherpast she was the Executive Director of Chesapeake Rural Network, a non-profit organization that was active in suicide prevention with programs such as Staying Alive. This program had two key note speakers, one of which was Beverly Cobain; Kurt Cobain’s cousin, the lead singer of Nirvana who sadly took his life at age 27. Later, in 2010, she became Secretary on the Board of Directors for SPEAK, another non-profit organization, where she remains today. SPEAK (Suicide Prevention Education Awareness for Kids/www.speakforthem.org) has done much work in suicide prevention. One great accomplishment they have achieved is passing the bill to have the Suicide Hotline (1-800-422-0009) on school identification cards. For over a decade suicide rates have been on the rise in the USA, and unfortunately suicide in youth is on the rise as well.

As Heather boldly stated: “If you are considering suicide, please pick up the phone and call the suicide hotline (1-800-422-0009) and talk to someone. Your life IS important and worth living… You are never out of options!”

Suicide does happen in your community. Just because people have the “not in my backyard” mentality doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Suicide is like homelessness: people choose to ignore it instead of talking about it and trying to help find resolutions to it. If you think there is a chance that your friend or family member may attempt suicide because of something they said, don’t just walk away and ignore it. Heather suggests, “If they have dropped hints to you, please talk to them, encourage them to talk to you, a health professional or a hotline worker. If you turn a blind eye, you may regret it.”

For every voice there are two ears to listen, no one is alone in this world. There are people who are just a phone call away. Heather is one of them who is walking this path with you.


Jason Thought

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26 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Jessica – Canada said:

    I genuinely enjoyed reading this passage. However, I do think some more raw feelings could have been put into the article. It does a very good job of expressing the topic on hand, suicide, but I did not feel it brought enough emotion to the table. Unfortunately, I have had a handful of suicides surround me growing up. I have taken it very hard. This is a reason that I did enjoy the article, because it is promoting hope for others that may be in a similar situation. I think a little more depth would have created a little more power to get the message through in a stronger manner.

  • Kaitlyn said:

    i liked it because she told her story which is hard to do when you lose a loved one like that and she reached out to people telling them how to prevent suicide and to call a suicide hotline if you need help.
    I have gone through stuff like that, losing multiple people to suicide and i could never talk about it.
    i really liked it because i could feel the sadness of her loss as i continued to read it and the story itself pulled me from the very beginning.

  • Ally said:

    Though I think this was a well- written article, it didn’t really focus on ways to prevent suicide. I have been a victim to severe depression, myself, though I would never take my own life. I have also known others with severe depression as well. We all seemed to have one thing in common: we hide it as much as we can from loved ones because we don’t want the help. We certainly would have never called a suicide hotline. This article had the opportunity to discuss warning signs, odd behavior, and background information into depression- especially anything severe enough to lead to a suicide. I don’t think it did that.

  • Crystal – Kentucky said:

    This is an emotionally charged topic for me.

    I lost my father to suicide on June 25, 2013…self inflicted gun shot wound. He was 60 years old. He died one week after father’s day and one week before his 61st birthday. From father’s day through July 7th each year, I am not myself and my days become very foggy. I cannot imagine that I will ever be the person I was before I lost him.

    In July 2007, my father was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease; a progressive neurological degenerative disease. He was forced to retire from the police force in Davenport, Florida. His depression set in immediately. Our lives represented the domino effect from that day on.

    I am an advocate for HDSA (Huntington’s Disease Society of America) and AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). I participate in fund raising and at least four 5k walks per year.

    My heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one in this manner. The grief is never ending and the questions linger for years to come.

    Please seek out support groups and counselors. They certainly have helped me find ways to use my pain and grief in positive manners that help others.

  • Courtney – Kentucky said:

    I want to start by saying that I love the intention of the magazine.

    If the goal of this article is to raise awareness about suicide, we are also inevitably focusing on prevention. However, the article gives very few real resources that one may choose in times of crisis. While a hotline is mentioned, the article seems to focus more on Heather, than suicide itself. Few, if any, causes were listed, warning signs, crisis intervention tactics, and physical locations or phone numbers for help were made readily available. In short, the article did not do what I believe it set out to do.

  • Susan – Colorado said:

    Because I’ve been writing military community pieces for the past five years, I was immediately drawn to the “How You Can Prevent Suicide” article. I did read the entire article, but I was never connected to the emotion aspect. The topic hits so many families across the world (especially military), but this article didn’t “move” me with emotion like many related articles.

  • Kristi - Louisiana said:

    The majority of tis article focused on a personal story rather than actual methods that the average person could use to intervene if they suspect someone they know may be suicidal. Personal stories can be great tools to help others to learn, but the headline seemed to indicate that the story would be more about preventative methods. I would like to have seen more emphasis on how to recognize signs of depression, how to talk to a loved one about suicidal thoughts, and resources other than the one program mentioned.

  • Danny - Germany said:

    The site genuinely resonates with me & it’s so great to see you’re putting work into making positive influence & change in the world. I am deeply interested in people & their stories, particularly those of hardship & strength in the human condition. This Heather Johnson article is close to home with me as I have lost 2 very close people to suicide also in my own life. It’s something that needs to be talked about. The experience inspired me to write & direct the short film ‘WALLS’. I hope to do more to help others who have suffered loss in this way.

  • Tara - Connecticut said:

    My only critique is the title of the piece. I read it expecting to hear her strategies for suicide prevention, although it’s less about how “I” can prevent suicide (inferred from the title) than her desire to spread awareness.

  • Garima - India said:

    With all due respect to Late Jason, I did not like the step he took. How much is this justified: hanging for a person who does not care about your life and death, abandoning your parents who never taught you such a scary use of rope. In my view, suicide is an act of cowardy. Suicide seekers do not empathize with their near and dear ones as they don’t care what will happen to them once they are no more.

  • Christina -- New Hampshire said:

    Heather Johnsons story resonates with me, as I lost my mother to suicide.

  • Randi - Virginia said:

    Mental health issues and resources is a topic close to my heart. I think the topic of this article — the relative of a suicide victim working through grief to start a non-profit — is one that definitely deserves to be written, and I enjoyed the details with which the writer characterized Jason: his Cherokee heritage, his passion for deep discussion. I do, however, think it would be a more respectful and well-rounded article to have included anecdotes from Jason’s immediate family, if possible.

  • Paige - Iowa said:

    I liked this article because suicide prevention is an important topic to me. I have known many people who have struggled with suicidal feelings, including myself.

    This article highlights how important it is for people to make suicide an open topic, letting those who are struggling know that its ok to struggle with those feelings. When we overreact or ignore others expressing their negative thoughts and emotions, we make them feel that they have to hide their struggle from us and therefore suffer more.

    I particularly liked the quote at the end by Churchill. One of my strengths is persevering in tough times, even if it’s only because I’m simply curious to see what happens next, and I try to encourage other people to see that if they just keep going, things will get better. Bad days can seem like an endless storm hanging over our heads, but they don’t last forever.

  • Stacy – West Virginia said:

    The first story on your website I fully read was this one, Heather Johnson’s “How You Can Prevent Suicide”, mainly because there was a picture of a cute Rottweiler on it, but I was glad I did. Although I have, fortunately, never had to be in that situation, it really opened my eyes to a growing problem that no one ever takes seriously until it hits close to home. After reading that, I read another and another and knew I was hooked. Thank you.

  • John – Indiana said:

    I love your concept; We are looking for positive stories about people in your community who are achievers, doers, and an inspiration/role model to others.

    I believe it is so important to let people know they are of value no matter their circumstances.

  • Kim – Arkansas said:

    This article was compelling because there is such a stigma in our world about depression, especially regarding our youth. In our rural area here in Arkansas, I know there have been similar situations. Each case involving young people with an entire life ahead of them. It is heartbreaking when any person feels like the only way out is to take their own life. Social status, fame and fortune is not a factor…look at the tragic suicide of Robin Williams. Sorry to ramble, it is a topic that touches my heart. I appreciate the author bringing to light a much needed taboo topic to address and bring into the limelight.

  • Jason - Washington said:

    I liked the article but I was disappointed with how little I learned about the young man who actually killed himself since he seemed to start out as the focal point of the piece. It seemed to me that he was little more than a sage way once I got into the article and would have been better left out in some respects; that portion of the article replaced by annual suicide numbers and other historical and/or notable facts maybe? The way I feel now just after reading it and thinking a little about it is that it seemed like a long obituary with a warning about not killing yourself as a P.S..

  • Geraldine – North Carolina said:

    This is a fantastic article, very well written. This is the type of subject matter that I think has an impact on all of us whether it is directly or indirectly. Also the ability to cope, connect and learn from the tragic preventable death.

  • Carmen – Ohio said:

    In my opinion, suicide is not something you can prevent. Nearly 2 years ago (June 25, 2013) my dad called to tell me that my sister’s boyfriend, John, had hung himself. I didn’t know the boy well, but we had met a few times and he had been good to my sister. She was the one who found him and I was the one who later wiped away his footprints where he climbed up to reach a good spot to jump. A few months later (February 6, 2014) Ryan, a man I considered a brother, hung himself as well. Only a year older than me, we had lived together off and on during our tumultuous childhoods. I drove up in tears to at least get his children and care for them while his funeral arrangements were made. That was the first time I ever kissed a dead man goodbye.

    Having come so close to this topic, and so recently, something I know that has been important to all of us affected by John and Ryan is knowing that it was a personal choice they made. I feel the article, while valid in outlining the suffering of another who also lost a loved one, places unnecessary guilt on loved ones left behind as if they could have done something. What I feel a lot of people don’t understand is that suicide is a desperate act from someone who feels they have nothing left inside them. John and Ryan both had people to turn to. My sister had checked John into the hospital for suicidal thoughts just weeks before he went through with it. Ryan was messaging me just days before his death, talking about the pain he felt and looking for relief. The suicide hotline, mass education about warning signs, and other available forms of prevention are all wonderful, but even the author admitted suicide rates were still on the rise. What I think would have made a better article is if she told the story and then how the family dealt with the grief in positive ways. Telling the story and then presenting all these options for prevention sounds too much like placing blame; whether on the victim or the family, neither is fair or accurate. I would have liked to see more research and more solid advice than simply saying “this is how to prevent it” as the title stated.

  • Carolyn - North Carolina said:

    I like the article because I thought there was a touching story behind it.

  • Mohammed – Georgia said:

    What moved me the most about your website was this post by Macy Fluharty on suicide prevention. The post had an impact on me because when I was 18, I was suicidal. But, writing helped me get through my depression.

  • Jason – Washington said:

    I liked the article but I was disappointed with how little I learned about the young man who actually killed himself since he seemed to start out as the focal point of the piece. It seemed to me that he was little more than a sage way once I got into the article and would have been better left out in some respects; that portion of the article replaced by annual suicide numbers and other historical and/or notable facts maybe? The way I feel now just after reading it and thinking a little about it is that it seemed like a long obituary with a warning about not killing yourself as a P.S.

  • Rebecca - Native American said:

    This piece on suicide prevention could have involved a lot more about the Native community and how suicide is a much bigger issue, than in American culture/society. As this young man, Jason, was Native, delving a little deeper in this way would have produced a more well rounded piece. It could have made more of a statement about our society as a whole and how we are failing our Native youths. In fact, all of the new Mexican newspapers are concentrating on the Native suicide issue next month in an attempt to inform the public about how bad it has gotten,

  • Brendan Martin said:

    Macy, I love it! This is my second attempt at a response, so let us see how we do. Your words made a thing that was her’s, but truly all of ours, into a thing that defies itself. I can’t touch it, but it’s real; that makes it beautiful. If the day were synonymous with night, we’d all know how some words may stand behind a verb. Keep on walking, darling! You rock!

  • Brendan Martin said:

    Macy, I am so proud of you! These may be words, but I see verbs! I love it! Keep walking!

  • Heather Johnson said:

    I want to thank you, as well as your Editor, and the readers who voted to have this story written. Suicide is a topic that is very near & dear to me. Not only have I worked to help complete strangers understand suicide & it’s effects, but I too have had to cope with the loss of loved ones due to suicide. If God put Angels on Earth to help us learn, love, and have fun, it was Jason that He sent. Not only was Jason my cousin, but he was also someone that helped to teach my daughters some of the harsher realities of being “different” and how to handle the cruel words from society when you are different. You really did paint a wonderful picture of Jason, and my family & I thank you.
    I would love to see an article in more detail about suicide and all the amazing work that SPEAK has done……maybe another day.
    Again, thank you!!!!

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